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Bassel Al Shahade, Syracuse University Student Killed While Filming A Movie In Syria

Bassel Al Shahade

By GEORGE M. WALSH   05/29/12 04:45 PM ET  AP

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A student filmmaker who was a well-known Syrian activist was killed while filming the ongoing violence in his homeland, Syracuse University said Tuesday.

Bassel Al Shahade died Monday in the embattled city of Homs, once a stronghold of opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, University Chancellor Nancy Cantor said. She did not have details of his death.

Shahade, a 28-year-old from Damascus, was a Fulbright Scholar pursuing a master of fine arts in film degree at the university's College of Visual and Performing Arts, Cantor said in a statement.

Owen Shapiro, a film professor and coordinator of the film program at the central New York university, said Shahade was well aware of the dangers he faced when he left school after the fall semester but that he was determined to tell the story of the uprising.

"He said: `I have to be with my people. I can't be here with what's going on in Syria,'" Shapiro recalled.

"He was very brave and willing to take the risk," he said. "He wanted the story told of what was happening in his country."

Shapiro got a call late Monday from another graduate student in the Gaza Strip who said Shahade, whom he remembered as outgoing with a sense of humor and only respect for other people, had been killed. Officials from Fulbright told Shapiro he had been shot while filming.

Amer Matar, a friend of Shahade who now lives in Germany, told The Associated Press by phone that Shahade was an activist even before the uprising began 15 months ago, when there was really no way for Syrians in the country to express opposition to the government.

The two met a year before the uprising, when Matar was in charge of a program to give aid to Syrians displaced by drought and Shahade was part of a team making a film on the effort. Matar said he made another film about problems faced by women in Syria.

"He is among the true Syrian heroes who carried cameras," he said.

His death comes amid reports of a massacre last week in Houla. Matar said Shahade was in Houla over the weekend to film the aftermath of the violence that killed 108 people, including many women and children.

In January 2011, Shahade and Matar helped organize a protest in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution in front of the Egyptian embassy in Damascus that was swiftly broken up by security forces. When the uprising in Syria started, the two friends joined right away, attending protests, shooting videos and organizing with other activists online.

They were detained for two days in August at another protest.

Matar said Shahade wanted to study in the U.S. but felt compelled to return home.

"He had very important scholarship to study film there, but as he told me, he couldn't live there because there was a revolution in Syria and he said there were historic events, so he had to be there to film them," Matar said.

Two months ago, Shahade traveled to Homs to train activist videographers there and to work on a film of his own.

The last time they spoke was at a meeting in Syria with other activists, before Matar traveled to Germany.

"He was working on a project, a film about the anniversary of the revolution," he said. "He was still excited like all the Syrians participating in the revolution."

Cantor, the university chancellor, said plans to memorialize Shahade on campus will be made public in the coming weeks.

"As a university community, we must deplore the senseless violence by Syrian government forces that took the life of Bassel, and countless others over these many months," she said. "We hope and expect that growing international outrage, and yesterday's condemnation of the Syrian government by the U.N. Security Council will create a more peaceful and nonviolent path to freedom for the people of Syria."

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Associated Press Writer Ben Hubbard in Beirut contributed to this report.

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Filed by Rebecca Harrington  |